Sales / Marketing

Optimism returns in sales and marketing

by Ella Lee

Virginia Fan, search and training director, Figure Heads Consultants

Opportunities in sales and marketing are picking up as companies in all major sectors plan for growth

Property prices and the local stock market are pushing upwards, unemployment is heading down. You don't need a Nobel prize in economics to figure out that Hong Kong has turned the corner! If confirmation were needed, it can be seen in the increased activity of recruitment agencies and, in particular, the number of quality jobs being advertised for sales and marketing professionals. As always, this sector has been among the first to see the benefits of economic recovery as companies boost promotional budgets and set their sights on expanding into new markets.

There has already been growth of around 50 percent in sales and marketing vacancies this year, according to a survey of local recruitment firms. Admittedly, the comparison is being made with a period in 2003 when things hit rock bottom but, nevertheless, the signs are encouraging.

"Because of SARS, all recruitment plans were put on hold last year," says Virginia Fan, search and training director of Figure Heads Consultants. "Now, seeing the steady improvement in the economy, companies are becoming more active in hiring than at any time since early 2001." Confident about the macro-economic outlook, Ms Fan expects this trend to continue well into next year.

Alexa Chow, managing director of Centaline Julie's Personnel Consultants endorses this point of view. She notes that sales and marketing professionals are usually regarded as frontline staff and are most in demand in times of expansion. "Companies must move early to strengthen their sales teams and hire relevant support staff," she says. "These are the people who will secure new business as the market rebounds."

Companies in the service sector have largely been responsible for the current surge in demand. In particular, those in retailing, tourism, banking and finance, and insurance have been advertising new vacancies. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries have also picked up in the last quarter, as Komal Sajnani, manager of temp staff service for Gemini Personnel explains.

"There are more openings," she says, "but there is also a shift to contract or temporary offers. This is because employers now tend to prefer appointments that allow a higher degree of flexibility."

Despite this, there is likely to be good news about pay rises in the next few months. Ms Chow predicts that sales and marketing personnel can expect salary increases of around five percent, while staff in merchandising and trading companies might get as much as ten percent.

Graduate opportunities

In terms of numbers, most vacancies in sales and marketing are for junior positions. Many employers are targeting fresh graduates, though some, especially in the property and retailing sectors, may also accept Form 5 and Form 7 school leavers.

Personality is repeatedly identified as the most important factor for doing well in a sales role. "Candidates must be outgoing, adaptable, aggressive and result-oriented," says Ms Chow. "Applicants should also be ready for hard work, long and irregular hours, and dealing with pressure."

Ms Fan has similar views and suggests that graduates should do a thorough self-evaluation or take assessment tests before deciding on a career in sales. "They should know their strengths and weaknesses and pick jobs accordingly," she says. "For example, a sales and marketing person must be presentable, tactful, people-oriented and patient. If this is not you, look elsewhere."

While noting the point about personality, Ms Chow thinks that graduates should seriously consider the sales and marketing field. She sees it as a valuable source of experience and a way to understand the scope of a company's business and their long-term development plans. "Most jobs now have a sales element," she adds. "For example, even a bank teller has to take part in cross-selling and promotion."

A position in sales can also provide the best way to prove one's ability and get noticed. "Performance is usually closely monitored so, for those who work hard, the prospects are promising," says Ms Fan. She cautions that it may be comparatively easier to land a job in sales, but the real challenge lies in the first few months. That period is the true test of being able to overcome difficulties and gain results.

Executive demand

Openings for sales professionals in middle to senior management are also picking up. Brand and product managers are in greater demand and the opportunities emerging in China are a driving force. Hong Kong and overseas companies are eager to break into the mainland market and Chinese enterprises, in turn, want to branch out internationally. In either case, sales and marketing executives with international exposure and management experience are needed.

Despite keen competition for such positions, leading recruitment firms still believe that Hong Kong professionals have a distinct advantage. "They have a unique ability to bridge the gap between east and west," says Ms Chow. "When compared with people from other countries, they have a clear head start in developing China business and can usually excel with their corporate experience and management skills."

When competing for any senior executive position, a proven track record is what counts. In general, five to eight years' solid work experience is required for a middle management position and up to ten years for a senior-level post.

Personality check

  • Sales and marketing vacancies are up as companies start to expand
  • Remember that personality is an important part of any sales job
  • Every sales recruit is effectively on trial for the first few months
  • Hong Kong professionals still have an advantage in developing China business

Taken from Career Times 15 October 2004
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